The exporters who own the livestock vessel involved in a COVID-19 outbreak in Western Australia will not be permitted to ship their 56,000 sheep to the Middle East.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has made the decision to not grant Rural Export and Trading an exemption to export livestock after 1 June.
The Al Kuwait was unable to depart prior to June 1 as planned, following confirmed cases of COVID-19 among crew members.
The exporter submitted an application to the department for exemption from the June 1 export deadline under the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry (Prohibition of Export of Sheep by Sea to Middle East-Northern Summer) Order 2020, including an animal welfare management plan.
However, the Department released a statement this morning saying: "Following consideration of all relevant matters under the legislation, including animal welfare and trade implications, the department has taken the decision not to grant an exemption to the exporter.
"The livestock that was to be exported in this consignment remain at registered premises and the department is satisfied there are no welfare concerns.
"A detailed statement of reasons for this decision will be released later this week."
The exporters, Rural Export and Trading WA, released a statement saying they had applied for an exemption to load an alternative vessel before June 15 but the department was not satisfied animal welfare could be protected.
"Animal welfare is always our top priority and the exemption request had considered all risks carefully to ensure mitigating controls were in place," said Mike Gordon, Managing Director, (RETWA).
"Historically over 450,000 sheep have been exported in the months of June, July and August.
"After going through this process with the department I cannot envisage an application for exemption of the Northern Summer Order being approved under any circumstance. In this case, from application to decision took six days. We believe the department's risk appetite is unrealistic and over cautious. This decision has significant commercial and trade ramifications."
The sheep in quarantine are in excellent health and under regular veterinary inspections, he said.
They will now enter the domestic market over time which comes at a significant costs and financial losses and is likely to push down farm gate prices.
"Our long-term trading partners that have invested in Australia are not going to continue to take the insults by our regulator and we know they are investing elsewhere," Mr Gordon said.
"The crew remain in a stable condition and no one has been hospitalised. We continue to work closely with the WA Health department to ensure the health and welfare of crew from the Al Kuwait is upheld."
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council has also expressed disappointment.
ALEC said the application for exemption involved the use of an alternative vessel. There were appropriate risk management practices and animal welfare plans in place as part of the exemption application to ensure the health of the sheep during the voyage, as well as reduced stocking density, according to the peak industry body.
The shipment would have provided the Middle East with much-needed food security at a time when a reduction in air travel is limiting access to chilled and frozen meat, according to ALEC.
A statement from ALEC said: "Whilst the decision is disappointing the live export trade will continue to operate and provide protein and much needed food security in these unprecedented times. We remain committed to providing our global partners with high quality Australian red meat."